Measles cases are at their highest level in a decade, and is looming dread of autism at least partially responsible for this?
There is a myth about vaccines and autism out there; the myth arose after a certain British doctor published a certain study linking the MMR vaccine to autism. A number of the authors of this study have since signed a formal retraction about the results of the study and the doctor is now accused of alleged ethical violations regarding his research and faces being struck off the registry to practice medicine in the UK. It was also found that the doctor (yes, it’s Andrew Wakefield) had been paid £400,000 by lawyers trying to prove that the vaccine was unsafe.
Vaccines don’t cause autism and are not behind the rise in autism cases. Study after study disputes a link, including this 2007 study about how thimerosal exposure declines, autism rates increase.
Nonetheless, anti-vaccination/”pro-vaccine-safety” advocates always manage to find something wrong in these studies and no surprise: While there really is no controversy about autism and vaccines (because there is no link), it’s no surprise to encounter suspicion about vaccines. Vaccines have been under suspicion since Dr. Edward Jenner pioneered the use of the smallpox vaccine in the late 1700’s – early 1800s. And, as University of Michigan professors Alexandra Minna Stern and Howard Markel note in Health Affairs:
Especially in the 1830s, after an initial generation had been vaccinated and the incidence of smallpox had declined markedly in the United States and Europe, a vociferous antivaccination movement emerged. Sometimes antivaccinationists were protesting what they considered the intrusion of their privacy and bodily integrity. Many working-class Britons, for example, viewed compulsory vaccination laws, passed in 1821, as a direct government assault on their communities by the ruling class. In addition, by the mid- eighteenth century the rise of irregular medicine and unabashed quackery encouraged antivaccinationism. For instance, irregulars generally viewed vaccination as a destructive and potentially defiling procedure of heroic medicine, akin to blood-letting. In addition, antivivisectionists, who abhorred animal experimentation, sometimes joined forces with antivaccinationists.[my emphasis]
One can find today’s antivaccinationists using identical arguments about the “intrusion of their privacy” and of their “rights” to not vaccinate a child, for religious, or philosophical, or other reasons. The CDC has become the stand-in for government intrusion on the rights of private citizens who depict themselves as not only having had their private rights trampled upon, but who believe that their children have been “injured” and “damaged” by vaccines and have therefore “become autistic.”
And it’s also no surprise that, sadly, measles cases are up while vaccinations are down, the handiwork (if you will) of the likes of (as Orac blogs) Jenny McCarthy and the aforementioned Andrew Wakefield. It does seems that fear of autism has led to a rise in measles. As a commenter on Orac’s Respectful Insolence notes, some parents think that diseases like measles are “safer” because they’re “‘more natural’” than the vaccines”; it’s also thought that “getting the diseases is better because their children’s immunity will be stronger from it.”
With this last belief—-better measles than vaccination because vaccines could cause autism—-I somehow feel that we’re coming almost full circle in the whole vaccine-autism morass, to the point that people would say they’d choose measles (which is potentially deadly, highly infectious virus) over vaccines and certainly autism. In fact, Generation Rescue founder J.B. Handley, says in today’s New York Times:
“Most parents I know will take measles over autism.”
This summer at the beach house, my son Charlie has discovered YouTube and also its endless store of Barney videos and I’ve been hearing “just use your imagination!” again and again—and I rather think that Handley is imagining quite a bit when it comes to measles, vaccines and autism.